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Bicycling: Hot Metal Bridge plans to be well connected

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Eliza and the South Side. Oh, the talk that was generated by that hot and heavy relationship.

The long separated pair are scheduled to be linked again in 2006 when the Hot Metal Bridge over the Monongahela River is scheduled to re-open for bicyclists and pedestrians.

I can just hear the stoop comments.

“Look, she’s still has her curves — all the way from Downtown to Hazelwood.”

“And did you see his posture coming across the river — straight as an arrow after all those years.”

The re-connection of the pair will permit the wheeled and well-heeled — bicyclists, in-line skaters, runners, joggers and walkers — to cross the Mon and continue on trails — upstream and downstream — on both sides of the river.

Eliza and the South Side were introduced in 1882 when the aptly-named Monongahela Connecting Railroad built a bridge a few feet downstream from its “Mon Conn” bridge.

The new bridge was designed to carry hot metal in ladle cars or torpedo-shaped cars from the Eliza and Soho blast furnaces on the Oakland side of the river to the processing mills on the South Side. Hot metal is freshly smelted, slag-free iron stewing at about 3,000 degrees.

Ferrying the fiery iron in its molten form across the 1,052 foot long bridge saved money for the Pittsburgh Works of the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation. Otherwise, it would have had to cast the hot metal into ingots and reheat them to make steel.

“It saved J&L a lot of money,” said Walter C. Kidney, architectural historian of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation and author of “Pittsburgh’s Bridges: Architecture and Engineering.” In the book, he concluded his comments about the side-by-side spans by saying:

“The bridges are destined to be an important traffic link between the cleared land of the J&L sites [on both sides of the river] as they develop.”

The importance of the Hot Metal Bridge to bicyclists and pedestrians was reaffirmed Wednesday evening at an Open House meeting organized by the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

Instead of a formal presentation, the public had an opportunity to look at a series of comfortably spaced easel-mounted drawings and plans for the bridge and an expansion of East Carson Street from 25th Street to 33rd Street and then speak to the professionals working on them.

Bicyclists were drawn to two renderings of what the Hot Metal Bridge will look like in 2006. They were prepared by Rod Walker, the head of the 3D Modeling and Visualization Department for Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, a major planning, engineering, program and construction management organization.

One rendering shows a curved ramp that bicyclists and pedestrians will use to descend to street level on the South Side of the bridge and connect with the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.

The other shows a new truss bridge that will be built over Second Avenue. It will connect the Oakland side of the Hot Metal Bridge and the Eliza Furnace Trail. The bridges will be lighted and their 14-foot wide bikeways will have picket-style railings.

John Coyne, director of engineering and construction for the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, said the work is scheduled to begin next summer and take about a year. The federal government is paying for most of it, but Coyne pointed out that the Allegheny Trail Alliance contributed about $750,000 to the project.

“I am so delighted with the design work,” said Linda McKenna Boxx, president of the alliance that represents seven rails-trails organizations. “It is sensitive to the nature of the project and is really neat.” The alliance is credited for providing the impetus for the project.

Coyne said the connection from the Hot Metal Bridge to the Eliza Furnace Trail “was important to the biking community.” Yes, it is, especially since it will be heavily used by riders from the city’s three largest biking neighborhoods — Oakland, Squirrel Hill and the South Side.

“This meeting was well done,” said Mary Shaw as her husband, Roy Weil, nodded his head in agreement.

“There was good notice, the description of what they were going to do was based on reality, the [I.B.E.W. Building] was easy to find and there was plenty of parking.”

Shaw and Weil, who have pedaled thousands of miles on bike trails, are the authors of “FreeWheeling Easy in Western Pennsylvania” and “Linking Up: Planning Your Traffic-Free Bike Trip Between Pittsburgh, Pa. and Washington, D. C.” They and other leaders in the biking community were the type of people the meeting planners wanted to attract.

“The people we spoke to were willing to listen to what we had to say,” Weil said.

They singled out Patrick Hassett, assistant director of development, design and transportation for the city planning department, for his “knowledge about the projects, where they were going, what was possible [in terms of any changes] and what wasn’t.”

Although delays are always possible, if not inevitable, Eliza and the South Side should be together again in 2006. It will be worth the wait.

(Larry Walsh can be reached at and 412-263-1488.)

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633